A Conversation With Andrea Guerra, CEO, Luxottica Group


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The VM Summit’s Leadership & Innovation session explored the perspective of global leaders today; those charged with managing complex organizations, executing strategies and coping with new, emerging forms of competition. To that end, Andrea Guerra, CEO of Luxottica Group, took the stage for an intimate one-one-one conversation with Vision Monday’s Marge Axelrad.

Axelrad’s first question focused on what sort of “thinking style” Guerra possessed based upon Thurber’s presentation. “I think I’m a simple guy and I always try to be where things happen,” answered Guerra. “I try my best to listen and to capture things that are not necessarily always said by our people. You know it’s not so easy to always say the truth to your boss, so I think sometimes it is very critical and important to go out and try to get things that maybe people are telling you.

“I think that we’re living in a world that is just fantastic and it is full of opportunities globally. I cannot imagine another entrepreneurial generation that could say that the things that are happening to us have happened in the last 100 years,” he said. “Globally we have two to three billion new consumers, no one before us could have said such a thing. And we have been living through a huge industrial revolution.

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“We often talk about the internet, digital, social but that’s not the only technology change. There is a whole new way of doing things; a new way of planning your factories, of working with your products. 3D printing has totally changed the way we do our R&D engineering. We get our samples and prototypes and think about style and design much, much quicker than before. And I think that these two things—this vast world of consumers and the technologies that have become available—have changed the way we all think.”

Guerra was then asked about how a company as large and established as Luxottica handles these sorts of changes in terms of management and prioritization. “You know I think I’m a little bit masochistic sometimes, so whatever success, whatever we have done, it’s over. I am immediately onto the next thing,” he explained. “I think today we could, each of us, get lost in this sea of opportunity. Especially when you are big and successful everyone thinks that you can do anything. Even inside [our company], people say, ‘Why don’t we do this? Why don’t we do that?’ It’s a world full of opportunities but on the other hand, it’s very unstable.

“We do not know what tomorrow brings. In a week’s time, in a month’s time, in three months’ time, we do not know. So I have pushed dramatically much more into strategic planning and sharing. Then people say if it is so unstable why do we plan? It’s useless, we should plan three months, every three months and tackle things as they come up. And I say no, this is totally wrong because we need to pick our battles and if we plan well and if we get more people included into the projects it’s easier, much easier to readapt what we are doing to account for the things that are changing. And this is what we, I, am trying to do every day,” he said.

“So does that mean as you are considering possibilities and changes that people are managing things they know could change later?” asked Axelrad.

  Andrea Guerra and Marge Axelrad.
“The thing is to allow people to understand what the opportunities are and what the limitations are,” Guerra explained. “This is a constant game. In this world, if we decide to go one way, it becomes pointless if after a week we are already bored with it. Our people have to stick with it and they have to love what we are doing. The more people inside the company we are able to share with, the better.

“Three months ago I made a decision. We have a daily online magazine for everyone in the company and I made the decision to edit and publish our three-year plan for the first time so anyone can look at it. And people said ‘But Andrea, that is a secret! That is so risky!’ And I said the risky part is [in our head] and it’s important that we communicate what we are trying to do. If people think that they are contributing even just a little to what we are trying to do, it will go much faster.”

Guerra has now been CEO of Luxottica for 10 years. So what does he think is the biggest change to the industry and what hasn’t changed at all?

“I think one major thing that changed is the emotional link between people and frames and sunglasses,” he stated. “I think that has totally changed in the last decade. I would say that the primary link a decade ago was functional—I am covering my eyes from the sun. I am seeing better with my frames.

“All of that is still there but we have introduced emotion, we have introduced brands, we have introduced dreams, we have introduced fashion and luxury, we have introduced everything that takes consumers to another place with a different attitude about what they’ll spend. So, they are not leaving their house anymore saying ‘I have to get a new pair of glasses.’ But maybe they are buying a pair just because they love the window display or because they saw Angelina Jolie in it.”

Slower to change, according to Guerra are the individual markets. “The things that have changed little are the markets; especially the U.S.,” he explained. “There is one special thing in the U.S. that has somehow heavily influenced the industry and that is insurance and managed vision care. I think that that is still the element that makes this market so different from any other market in the world and which makes things here go a little bit slower.”

So how does a company, like Luxottica, that is in a position to help those within its organization, as well as its customers, grapple with these changes, asked Axelrad.

Andrea Guerra talked about how technology is changing production as well as the way we think.  
“I think that we have a great responsibility,” agreed Guerra. “We are happy. We are successful. We’re growing. There are lots of people that want to do business with us across the world. That’s fantastic. But I think we have a great responsibility and I think the position we have taken is to really ignite conversation, open up conversation, tell stories. Allow people to understand how many different ways you can run your business.

“It’s an attitude. The point is, let’s open up, let’s think, let’s understand what we want to do. Who could have ever guessed the things happening in the world today? Who would have guessed that Amazon would become one of the largest sunglass retailers in the U.S.? Who could have guessed it three, five, seven years ago? What should we do? Forget it? Fight it? I think that we all have to be customers, suppliers, competitors, partners, friends, enemies at the same time. When I see Hubert [Sagnières] from Essilor, I tell him on Monday and Tuesday you are my supplier. On Wednesday and Thursday I am your customer. Friday we’re good partners. Saturday we fight.”

Finally, an audience member asked about the infamous 60 Minutes interview. “First thing is that interview happened in September 2012 and four months later our stock price went from 25 to 40, so I always connect the two things and say 60 Minutes brought us good luck,” he joked.

“I think they had a very clear mission and the mission was to demonstrate functionally that with our products and our brands we are robbing consumers. The interview lasted an hour and 50 minutes and I didn’t know that lady [Lesley Stahl] before, and I don’t think I want to see her again, but she asked me the same questions over and over and over. And I think you would agree with me that I remained patient, answering very politely all of her questions but I do not think she took our message home. I don’t think so,” he concluded.